Editorial: $8 million a year Rock River economy in danger

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-112792337621295.jpg’, ‘File photo by Frank Schier’, ‘Scenes such as this one of boaters and inner-tube riders on the Rock River this past summer could become a rare sight if river policies continue to scare away boaters and contribute to shutting down businesses.’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-112792366927230.jpg’, ‘graph courtesy of http://waterdata.usgs.gov/il/nwis/’, ”);

Rockford Marina boat sales and maintenance operations, the Curve Fishing and Marine forced to close

Editor’s note: Much of the following article was given as a presentation to the Executive Committee of the River District Association by myself, Rick Fiduccia and Steve Lucas.

The Association asked for a fact sheet on the economics of the river, and another presentation was made to the last board of directors meeting. More research has been done on the revenue produced by boating on the Rock River and according responsibility. Surely this increasingly alarming scenario will be of interest to our readers, many of whom are River District Association members, and the mayors of Rockton, Roscoe, Machesney Park, Loves Park and Rockford because many of their constituents’ businesses and jobs are affected by the now dwindling economic assets on the Rock River. The time to act is now before ComEd and our sheriff can do any more damage to our economy.

Here’s Winnebago County Sheriff Dick Meyers’ philosophy on the Rock River in his own nutshell quote: “The river is a no-win situation.”

For the region and the River District, since the Rock River is our primary natural resource and Association’s namesake, “The river is a MUST-win situation.”

Paul Callighan, regional external affairs manager for ComEd, told this paper concerning liability for operating the dam, “ComEd will not assume liability…for doing anything. We operate within our given parameters.”

Callighan was speaking of the parameters he said were set by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Yet, representatives of both the DNR and the Army Corps of Engineers told the Beloit Daily News in the June 5, 2004, edition that ComEd was solely responsible: “John Burant, Army Corps of Engineers hydraulic engineer and Rockford flood engineer, said the Army Corps of Engineers was not responsible for operating the flood gates.

“‘We do not operate that dam. We do not have any jurisdiction over that damn (sic),’ Burant said.”

The Beloit Daily News article continued: “‘The Fordham (sic) Dam is owned and operated and maintained by ComEd. They developed the operation and maintenance plans for the gates,’ Carol Knowles, spokesperson for the Illinois DNR said.”

The following mismanagement, under the guise of “safety,” closed Rockford Marina, formerly our largest, newest riverfront development, complete with new docks, concessions, water ski and accessories shop and a new boat showroom.

The root cause of this was ComEd would not open the dam to release the high water during flooding in 2004; therefore, the sheriff closed the river.

1. In 2004, the entire Rock River north of the Fordam Dam was closed until July 4 by Sheriff Meyers, in conjunction with ComEd not opening the dam enough to release the flood waters.

2. In 2004, the Rock River north of the Riverside bridge was closed until the third week in July, by Sheriff Meyers. ComEd’s policy remained the same.

3. In 2005, on Jan. 14, the sensors on the Fordam dam malfunctioned in the middle of the night. The river dropped at least 2 to 4 feet.

Since the dam is monitored from Joliet, Illinois, corrective action was not taken for two days! (See graph above)

Yes, the high water mismanagement is compounded by dam malfunctions and low water mismanagement.

For years, the recreational pool has not been maintained at a constant level by ComEd. Last year, after the flooding, we had low water conditions in late summer. Then consider the low water problems we have this year, partly because of drought conditions that are compounded again because debris is supposedly stuck in one of the gates of the dam. That’s two years in a row of poor maintenance and operation by ComEd that are drastically affecting the river economy.

Here’s what the Rockford Park District had to say about their losses in the summer of 2004:



MEMO TO: Webbs Norman, Tim Dimke

FROM: Ron Butler, Jodi Carroll

DATE: September 24, 2004

SUBJECT: Requested Information Regarding Sportscore I and Forest City Queen

Sportscore I

1. Was Sportscore I closed due to high water this past year?

2. If yes, from when to when?

Yes, from Saturday, May 22, 2004 to Monday, June 7th; however, fields 7 & 8 remained closed until June 22nd.

3. If yes, what activities were closed down?

a. The boat docks were unusable due to high waters during the months of May and June.

b. All softball diamonds and soccer fields were closed May 22 through June 7th at Sportscore I.

c. During that period of time the State Cup soccer semi-finals/finals were moved to Sportscore II, and two softball tournaments were dispersed to Harlem Community Center, Forest Hills and Don Schmidt fields.

4. If yes, what were the lost revenue (income) impact and/or additional operational costs?

a. The loss of revenue from parking fees totaled approximately $4,250.

b. The loss of revenue from two softball tournaments totaled approximately $3,710.

c. The loss of revenue from concession operations totaled approximately $14,480. Staff has filed for reimbursement from PDRMA for this loss.

d. Labor to clean up the sites and refurbish turf due to high waters was approximately 206 manhours/ $9,280.

e. Materials used for clean up, seed, straw, rope/chains to secure docks, totaled approximately $700.

f. Total revenue loss = $22,440

Total cleanup costs = $9,980 (labor and materials)

3. Did the high waters impact other river park sites such as Martin, Shorewood Parks? If yes, address the same questions for Sportscore I.

a. South Park, Beattie, Martin, Waterside, Riverview Ice House docks and the docks at the Library were compromised. Clean up and materials costs are included in 4d & 4e.

b. The Ski Broncs’ performances were canceled May and June. Ski Broncs provided labor for clean up at Shorewood,” said the park district memo.

The information of the Forest City Queen is later in this article.

At a meeting Aug. 8 of this year at the Fordam Dam, Paul Callighan of ComEd told Frank Schier and Steve Lucas that to open one gate of the dam would take a two-minute reaction time to start and five minutes to completely open the gate—a total of 14 minutes, open to close. What about just opening it halfway to flush the debris under the gate? That would only take seven minutes and would hardly affect the river level. Common sense fails to flow in the operation and maintenance of the Fordam Dam.

The new “No Wake” zone is very damaging to boating activity, and the river industry's economic health. Boaters are going elsewhere. More than 500 protest signatures have been gathered against the new “No Wake” zone.

Not only has the Rockford Marina closed, but Saturday, Sept. 24, 2005, Curve Fishing and Marine at 4640 N. Second St. in Loves Park closed.

The Curve offered new and used boats, motors, boat repair, parts and every boat accessory imaginable. If they didn’t have what you wanted in stock, they’d order it for you. Besides carrying a great selection of live bait, the Curve was also the largest tackle shop in the stateline area, and many people bought Illinois and Wisconsin fishing licenses there.

Their staff was friendly, yet very professional and knowledgeable.

Their staff related that it was poor sales during the last two years that brought about their bankruptcy filing.

Just like Rockford Marina, what a loss.

Rock River economics

Very conservatively and on average, each boat on the river represents $50 on gas and another $50 on food and beverages each day. That's $100.

On the average Friday and Saturday, 200 boats are on the river per day. $100 per boat, times 200 boats, equals $20,000 per day. That's $40,000 per weekend. The boating season is from May to October every year. Let’s take mid-May through mid-October. Not including weekday usage, that's 22 weekends. 22 times $40,000 equals a minimum of $880,000 spent on just those weekends in a year on the Rock River. Add in the weekdays over those 22 weeks, and the total is easily $1,

000,000 or more.

Total A: $1,000,000

On an average year, boat retailers conservatively estimate 150 boats were sold in the Rockford area only. Those firms as listed in the McLeod USA yellow pages are Curve Fishing and Marine, Cycle M, Even Keel Marine, Hammer Time Sports, Innovative Marine, Loves Park Arctic Cat, Loves Park Sporting Goods, Revers’ Marina, Rockford Marina and Rockton Marine Service. They estimate the average sale on a new boat to be $25,000, per boat and trailer. 150 new boats times $25,000 equals $3,750,000. For used boats and jet ski sales around the area, add in another $200,000.

Total B: $3,950,000

On an average year, boat retailers conservatively estimate the total sales for equipment such as life jackets, bumpers, radios, skis, wakeboards, ropes—plus cleaning, upholstery, docking fees, parts, repair, maintenance and storage of boats to be easily $1,200,000 per year.

Total C: $1,200,000

On an average year, river veterans estimate the sales of new docks and installation, plus putting in and taking out existing private and public docks on the Rock River generates $200,000 for local businesses.

Total D: $200,000

In a Sept. 11, 2005 article, the Rockford Register Star cited the estimated figures for the Rock River Regatta, the National Wakeboard Championships, the Ski Broncs, and the Forest City Queen to be “well under $500,000, a year,” as given by the Rockford Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (RACVB).

That has to be wrong.

Let’s take those events in order, using the number of visitors for each event as cited in the Register Star article. John Nuttall lives on the river in Loves Park, boats and drew up these numbers for us.

The Rock River Regatta. That weekend 60 college teams with 1,700 racers and 2,300 fans come to town.

The entry fees are 600 times $30 equals

Total 1: $18,000.

Six meals per person times 4,000 people times $5 each meal equals Total 2: $120,000.

Hotel rooms with four per room times 1,000 at $50 each equals Total 3: $50,000.

Fuel cost for four people per car makes 1,000 cars times a $37 fill up equals Total 4: $37,000.

Incidental costs at $5 each for 4,000 people equals $20,000

That’s a final total of $245,000.

Nuttall adds, “This assumes no value for the thousands of people from the community that watch. Then consider the 4,000 college-educated people coming to one of the most beautiful parts of the city. I’m sure the rowers will be looking for jobs when they graduate. Then add in the advertising value if nine of the Big 10 schools bring teams that are covered in hundreds of collegian, and other local papers,” Nuttall said.

Conservative real value for the Head of the Rock Regatta: $500,000. The value given by RACVB was $71,500 in economic impact.

The National Wakeboard Championships. Nuttall puts the value of that event at $37,000.

The Ski Broncs and the American Water Ski Association National Show Ski Competition. With 30,000 in yearly attendance, plus the nationals, the value of the Ski Broncs surely must equal the regatta at $500,000. The value given by RACVB was $195,000 in economic impact.

The Forest City Queen: Here’s some interesting answers to a few questions this paper asked that were quickly provided by the Rockford Park District for the year the river was closed so much, 2004, compared to the year before, 2003:

“1. Dates the boat was shut down?

“a. The river was placed at a “No Wake” May 23rd and officially closed to all boat traffic on May 28th. The river reopened on July 13th. The Forest City Queen does not sail when “No Wake” has been posted.

“2. Comparative number of riders and revenues in 2004 to 2003 and loss due to shut down.

“a. The Forest City Queen was forced to cancel 110 public rides, 5 Family Fun Rides and 5 Friday Fish Rides. Revenue loss was approximately $9,000.

“b. Comparison of 2003/2004 showing a loss for 2004 due to river closure:

2003 2004

“# Rides 336 136

“# Riders 5,463 2,584”

The RACVB said there were 4,000 riders in 2004, as reported by the Register Star, versus the 2,584 riders provided by the Park District.

The Park District reported this year’s revenue from the Forest City Queen was $36,206.

Other river events not in the RACVB numbers were the Memorial Day, Fourth of July and On the Waterfront weekends.

Not including the holiday weekends above, for the events in bold $1,073,206:

Total E: $1,073,206

Total of A-E: $7,423,206

Sales tax at 7.25 percent: $538,182.43


These sales and events represent local, regional and out-of-state tourism, let’s spell it out: Eight Million Dollars Worth.

Yet with the new “No Wake” zone at Martin Park and the omnipresent harassment of boaters by the Winnebago County Sheriff’s patrol on the river, boaters who want to ski the entire river or do tricks on their jet skis are leaving the area.

Will our special events leave, too, because of the inconsistent, even dangerous, water levels? Enough of fear, let’s talk about fun and all that money, year after year, hopefully.

Boaters want to have fun. Boaters feel like “Big Brother” is watching them. Boaters are leaving. Boaters’ money is going with them.

Boaters are going to the Mississippi, Lake Geneva, the Fox Lake and River, and down to the Illinois River around Starved Rock, where they don’t get hassled. They don’t break their propellers in those waters or bottom out their boats there because of low water either. When the Rock River is closed, boaters grab their wallets and purses, hook up their trailers and go.

Boaters talk. Boaters around the region are getting the word that boating on the Rock River is a bummer, complete with tickets courtesy of our Sheriff’s patrol. Now the only place to get your boat fixed on the river is Revers’ Marina. Jim Revers probably knows more about boats and this river than anybody around. He and his family have been in business on this river for decades. What if he closes because of all this malarkey? We’ll have to go to Rockton or Beloit to get our boats fixed.

And Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey wants to build a River Walk to attract tourists and boaters. What the hell for? We’re getting such a bad reputation, no one will want to show up to use it.

Hey, River District, did you know that the Sheriff’s Department is discouraging the use of our new boat docks behind the Morrissey Building and the Library? Yup. Sgt. Stephen DePauw came into the offices of The Rock River Times on another matter and said he’s telling people that it’s risky to park your boat there. Street people, you know. I told him I park there, go to dinner at Serrano’s or Octane, or go to Kryptonite to see a band, and it’s no problem. Nobody messes with my boat. He said somebody could undo my lines, and it could drift right down over the dam. Was that a hint? More fear, fear, fear, safety, safety, safety, control, control, control. So many of us are damn tired of all this transparent manipulation. What a public relations disaster in promoting the River District Association’s efforts and investment!

Coincidentally, of course, Kryptonite reported they had more business that said they used the River District dock last year than this year. Serrano’s said a few folks have said they came up from the docks; including one couple last week, but they’re new to the area. Octane said once in a great while, they get people from the docks. Paragon and Carlyle Brewing Company said they’ve had a few couples from the river.

Yet, did you see the crowd of boats during the Fourth of July and Waterfront weekends on those River District docks! They were packed. The docks were so full, the boats tied up to each other, side by side off the docks, up to eight boats out into the river. The need for the docks, and more docks, exists in fact; when and only when, it’s fun and encouraged, promoted, not discouraged. Was it safe? Yes. Were there any accidents? No.

Without fear, citizens and public officials must ask Paul Callighan and Sheriff Dick Meyers, “Are you trying to attract or repel our local boa

ters and visiting tourists? Are you trying to build or destroy our river economy?”

Here’s another point of interest in our Sheriff’s behavioral motivation. When these strange river policies started about three years ago, a source asserted Barbara Atwood had donated a boat to the Sheriff’s Department. Ms. Atwood has a beautiful home on National Avenue on the west shore of the river. Admirably, her shorefront is completely natural, wooded, screening the view of her house from the river and its traffic and noise. Her property is the only natural shoreline on the river besides that of Rockford Country Club’s and the strip below the Discovery Center parking lot.

This paper made a recent Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) filing on the source of funding for the large Sheriff’s patrol boat on the river, known by boaters as “the tuna boat.” Yes, with its large bridge tower and extended stern and two big engines, it looks like a small tuna boat.

In an interview with Sheriff Meyers about the FOIA request, he said the Atwood Foundation made donations of $45,000 on Nov. 7, 2000, and $42,000 on Jan. 8, 2001, for the boat and its engines. Meyers said the “only string” was that they remain anonymous. He said, “there’s no connection” to the new “No Wake” zone, river levels, dam operation and the donation of money by the Atwood Foundation.

He also said other citizens’ groups help defray costs associated with policing the river. Specifically, the Rock River Homeowners Association helped to repair motors and purchase safety vests a few years ago.

Meyers added that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers visited on Aug. 25 and will study removing shallow sections of the river north of Roscoe and south of the Riverside bridge for a wider and deeper channel for enhanced safety to accommodate boat traffic.

Dick and Barb Berman are very active on the Rock River Homeowners Association board, and Dick is reportedly about to become president of the organization. The shoreline of their home, just south of the Riverside bridge, is marred by a sandbar that results from the effluence of a street sewer drain pipe from the Cliffbreakers parking lot and the North Main Street area. This sandbar catches large driftwood coming down the river and is a hazard to navigation, as it makes the channel narrower. The Bermans and some of the other residents of Country Club Terrace have been disturbed by loud larger boats and jet skis passing and joyriding by and off Martin Park. Reportedly, they are happy with the new “No Wake” zone, as it has made the river quieter.

Barb Berman said she never lobbied Meyers to enact the “No Wake” zone at Martin Park. She also said she had no knowledge that any of her neighbors lobbied for the “No Wake” zone.

As to whether she preferred the “No Wake” zone, Berman wanted to confer with her husband before commenting on the matter.

Dick and Barb Berman wrote in a fax sent to The Rock River Times Sept. 27: “The Bermans did not solicit or request from anyone the present no wake regulation, nor do we know of anyone on or off our street that did. The problems of wake and safety are not very important to us because we have a concrete sea wall and we are not boaters. We do enjoy the reduced noise that now allows us to carry on a conversation next to the river without interruption.

“Boats operating at excessive speed, to the point of being unsafe, boats causing noise far in excess of what they need to, and boats or wave runners operated radically in areas of high traffic, to the point of being unsafe, have been complaints we have heard since we moved onto the river 20 years ago,” the Bermans continued. “We share these complaints and feel that if they can be addressed, we will have more boats on the river and their occupants will be safer. We support the efforts of the authorities addressing these problems. Business operators on the Rock would be helped by a logical and safe use of the river that will increase the number of users. The river will develop and use will grow. This growth should be managed to the benefit of the Rockford area and not minority interests. We feel that those that support high speed, loud noise, and no river controls are members of such minorities.”

Residents of the Rock River Towers, Franklin Place and lower Indian Terrace have all noted less boat traffic since the new “No Wake” zone has been in effect.

Some of them don’t care about the noise of the louder river craft; some do. Some like to see the boats and skiers go by; some don’t

The solution to the noise dilemma is rather simple. If the Sheriff likes to monitor the river so much, get a decibel meter. Most of these larger boats and jet skis can run their exhaust either into the air or into the water. Make it mandatory to exhaust into the water or have effective mufflers that match a certain decibel level. Give out tickets for noncompliance, just like tickets are given on city streets for loud car stereo systems.

Likewise, if you live near a highway, you cannot restrict traffic to cars only and not noisy semi-trucks. The Rock River is a public waterway. Big boats have a right to be there. If people don’t like highway traffic, they usually insulate their house and keep their windows closed for peak traffic, or they move. Public traffic for recreation or interstate commerce is not restricted for a special few.

Likewise again, public boating should not be restricted on a public waterway, nor should the recreation pool the boaters go up and down, go up and down. It’s not safe, Sheriff.

Such restrictions for special interests destroy the public’s interests; particularly their recreational and economic interest that outweigh special interests—to the tune of $8,000,000.

Think of the businesses, jobs and lives lost or damaged. With the rising of the price of oil, the cost of hurricane recovery and the cost of the Iraq War, our local economy needs all the action it can get.

We have lost so much of our traditional industry, we cannot afford to ruin our own existing businesses in an industry that can still grow right here—recreation and tourism. The Rock River is central to that growth. Let’s center on keeping and growing the $8,000,000 Rock River economy, before very flawed policies with little common sense or real equity completely destroy what we have and can have. Speak up before it’s too late! Recovery is a very difficult endeavor.

Jeff Havens, staff writer, contributed to this editorial.

From the Sept 28-Oct. 4, 2005, issue

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